20 DECEMBER 1975, Page 12


The politics of the bourgeoisie

Russell Lewis

In an earlier article I suggested that the middle, classes, instead of revolting against socialism, are in large numbers adapting themselves to it, and even, up to a point, taking control of it by going into state employment, where they are busy feathering their nests with inflation-proof pensions, etc. This is only another aspect of the now celebrated Bacon and Eltis analysis of the British economy which appeared in the Sunday Times, and which roundly asserted that, while productive activities are shrinking, parasitical occupations are on the up and up.

Accepting this picture means giving up some cherished ideas. One is the belief that, if the socialists go too far, the long-suffering middle classes will take a leaf out of the trade union book, and go on strike themselves, with shattering consequences. I used to say and write this myself, but I now see that it was wishful thinking. For, when one studies how it would happen, it quickly becomes apparent that the only middle-class people who might achieve anything by striking are employed either by the state or by one of its offshoots mean the doctors, the airline pilots, the civil servants who pay out the social security benefits, and the sewage engineers and their interest is not in overthrowing socialism but in screwing as much money as possible out of the public. So in a sense they are part of the game as much as Denis Healey.

The self-employed middle classes of course feel differently. They really resent the socialists who are making it more and more difficult for them to earn a living and taxing them into the ground on what they do earn. But what can they do? It is no good the grocer on the corner putting up the shutters, for that will merely drive his remaining customers to join those who have already departed for the High Street to taste the joys of Tesco. It is equally useless for the solicitor to refuse to convey a property because his clients will quickly learn to do it for themselves. Admittedly journalists can wilfully desist from putting pen to paper, or finger to typewriter, and by depriving them of copy stop the newspapers appearing, but, as most of the dailies and weeklies are overstaffed and half-broke already, any such action will only hasten the day when they can no longer afford to drink in El Vino's, the famous Fleet Street establishment.

Thus the middle class is split between those who have a vested interest in socialism, and those who are being ground down by inflation, controls and taxation, and lack the bargaining muscle to grab back their accustomed share of the national cake.

So the view that the middle class will prove a bulwark against socialism as it was in Chile because, by defending its own group interests, it will incidentally defend the freedom of everybody else, falls to the ground. Yet, funnily enough, that may turn out to be a good thing.

For to accept the notion that freedom is only prized by the bourgeoisie a sort of class privilege or luxury is to fall into a Marxist trap. It is toaccept the contention that freedom is a minority interest, and the interest of a minority which does not have the power to preserve it. Besides, such a view overlooks the important truth that poor people do care about freedom. It is not true, as is often suggested by chic radicals, that freedom only matters to the well-fed, the well-shod, and the well-housed. They ought to know that there are plenty of ill-fed, badly-housed people with holes in their shoes in Eastern Europe whose first choice, if they had one, would not be more food, footwear or houseroom. Rather, like Kravchenko, they would choose freedom and by this they mean things like knowing that a knock on the door in the early morning is only the milkman, or having the opportunity to go to service in a cathedral where the officiating bishop is not a colonel in the KGB, or being able to visit Auntie in the next province without having to obtain a visa. You have to be a socialist intellectual to think that St Francis of Assisi was disqualified by his poverty from caring about being free, or that W. H. Davies was untypical of the community of tramps in valuing his freedom to stand and stare, or that gipsies put no value on the freedom of the open road. Indeed the more one thinks of it, the less convincing is the view, common among improving liberals since T. H. Green, that freedom only matters to the well-off. For the rich are sometimes, as it were, almost enslaved by their possessions, while those who have none value their freedom all the more, because that is all they have, even though it is a great deal.

The idea that freedom is only of value to the bourgeoisie is not only insulting to our poorer fellow citizens (who are mainly found among the non-unionised working class, incidentally) but prevents us from seeing how much a particular and growing section of the middle class is, through its occupation of a strategic place in the government machine, usurping the power of free institutions. This is, admittedly, to revive Lord Hewart's theory of the New Despotism (of the men in Whitehall), if in a somewhat different context and form. The standard objection to this view, as when it was first put forward over forty years ago, is that the civil servants really are the servants of the policies for which Parliament votes. Their numbers grow as the PROs of the civil servants' unions have been assuring us with renewed fervour of late to carry out the decisions which Parliament has made. Unfortunately things are not so simple, because Parliament responds to pressures from the electorate, and the fact is that, nowadays, 30 per cent of these with votes are employed by national or local government or in the nationalised industries. So there is a huge vested interest in the continuance of those collectivist policies which swell the bureaucratic ranks. Moreover the civil service is having an increasing influence on policy. This is a hard thing to prove, especially given the secrecy which shrouds the workings of the government machine. Yet is it not remarkable how often a so-called consensus policy turns out, time and time again, to be the policy of the Whitehall department concerned, and that it always seems designed to create more and more civil service jobs? Thus the highly bureaucratic Crossman plan for the reorganisation of the Health Service with fourteen

Regional and ninety Area Health Authorities failed for lack of time to go through ParliaMent. Yet it soon reappeared as the Joseph plan, and a fine 'piece of over-centralised nonsense it has proved. Indeed it has much to do with the conflicts rending the NHS at this very moment' As for Peter Walker's infinitely vorse 'reform' of local government which provided the launching pad for the latest unparalleled bout of Town Hall extravagance, that, 1 understand, had been lying on the departmen" tal shelf for years, and Walker was the first minister to have the energy to push it through which only goes to show that energy, when not allied to sound judgment, is a blessing in reverse.

Or again is it not strange how one party after another, once in government, comes round to enacting an incomes policy even after den: ouncing it root-and branch while in opposition This is not, let me hasten to say, an exaMPle °f how politicians are educated by the experience of office in the realities of our national positiOn, or of how an incomes policy is a painful necessity imposed by circumstances. On the contrary, the countries which have lately been most successful in containing inflation West Germany and the United States have either avoided or abandoned incomes policies, while the actual record of incomes policies all over the world in checking inflation is, except in the short-term sense of suppressing the symptoins one of unrelieved failure. So the reason 'AY prices and incomes policies (but let us call the by their right name of "price and inconle controls") keep popping up is that they reflect the administrator's apprbach to curbing tion. Thus, if wage inflation occurs, tne, Whitehall Johnnies feel that it is the 0105: natural thing in the world to issue an order the' it may not in future exceed a certain 'norne 'guiding light' or 'plateau' the names are supposed to distinguish one identical incornes policy from the next, because the minister always calls it unique for fear of seeming t° copy his predecessor, though each introductarY White Paper uses a whole cartload of phrases copied out from the last one. They then set MI a, board with a lot of officials at its beck and call to supervise the application of these futile criteria.

Failure to recognise the emergence °f bourgeois socialism could have grave consei: quences for the Conservative Party, NvIli,e".. except for Mr Angus Maude still thinks tn` middle class supports it. Still, in making Mrs Thatcher their leader, the Conservatives have' perhaps unconsciously, shown that they dOncit want theirs to be the party which practises the ideals or lack of them of the administrative elite. For, in retrospect, it is now easier to see, that an administrative elitist is just what Tel .Heath was — and remains. He is really a Balli° Conservative as opposed to the instinctive Conservative which Margaret Thatcher is and she did not acquire those instincts in Somerville either, but from the protestant ethic of her father, the small town grocer-10 preacher-mayor. The Heath mentality car‘le,, across in a revealing TV interview which h` had in a train, I think, in the 1966 election, He, was asked what he ultimately cared about, he replied, "good administration." A hundre' years ago, when the state was a limited une;, that would have been a good reply, but time I suspect by "good" Heath meant "active or "paternalist" or even "busybody." This fits int with a concept which Michael Oakesncit,‘ labelled the "politics f the felt need" whi professes to do wha the people demand ° those in power. At first sight this appears Perfectly fine, but, in practise, it usually sinounts to responding favourably to those who are most vociferous in demanding collective goodies, or, at worst, becomes wholesale surrender to pressure groups. In any case it leads to government which is big, which sets no bounds to itself, and for that reason alone is bound to be bad. Before arriving at No. 10 nuwning Street, Heath talked about getting government off our backs and reducing the civil service, but, insofar as he ever intended anything of the kind, he conceived of it happening as a result of applying new (though

actually old hat and not very successful, even in some cases fraudulent) American management techniques such as systems analysis.

It is when this sort of philosophy has an Incumbent in the seat of power that there is surne reality about the complaint that we have gc)verument of the bureaucrats by the bureaucrats for the bureaucrats.

Yet how can the bureaucratic juggernaut ever be brought to a halt? I think the first thing Is to change those widely accepted attitudes That have helped its progress down the years. That would normally be a disheartening this but we have working in favour of

his change the shock of the present crisis, Which, unlike those previous crises, which only seerned to affect the balance of payments (and Which nobody could understand anyway), is actually causing a sharp drop in the nation's standard of living. In addition there is a ,lustified mood of public anger at the extravagance of public bodies and the way in which Public servants have looked after themselves While the load on the rest of the community is r°Iving. So there is an opportunity to educate the Public out of their socialist assumptions. is a job to which the Conservatives must give Priority, though first they must clarify the minds of many of their own members. The message they must bash home is that over a ilast range of activities in which governments aye exerted themselves for a generation, their Lzeal has proved to be not merely misplaced but as actually produced the opposite effect to

they intended. Here are some examples and are only some out of many, but they do cover most of the fields of policy:

—State spending to create full employment has caused inflation and in the end worse unemployment. —Fixing the exchange rate has resulted in big erratic jumps in that rate. —Every bout of wage controls has ended in a Wage explosion. —Rent control has enormously reduced the amount of cheat; rented accommodation. —Universal welfare has led to concentrated Poverty, —Compulsory classless equality of schooling (iu comprehensives) has led to middleclass exclusiveness (in the neighbourhood comprehensives). And knowing how some People think that this can be offset, let me add this rider from American experience — bussing intensifies race and class divisions. —1‘lationalisation has meant increasing loss of state control over industry. —Regional aid has impoverished the regions (those who think that that is overstating the case will perhaps at any rate accept the statement that regional aids have been useless — that is if they are influenced by the fact that the pattern of regional unemployment has remained virtually Unchanged for thirty years).

—:State aid has made many companies bankrupt.

—Town and country planning (to protect amenity and historic buildings) has caused enormous destruction of both amenity and historic buildings.

—Overseas aid has made most of the recipients poorer.

And here are two more lessons which we look like learning the hard way in the near future: —Statutory equal pay for women will boost female unemployment.

—Compulsory industrial democracy will mean shop-floor dictatorship.

Yet even in a changed climate of opinion the bureaucratic trend will prove a powerful one to overcome when so many interests conspire to perpetuate it, and it will not be reversed by merely standing firm against any further governmental growth, for that just means consolidating socialism — something that post-war Conservative governments have been rather good at doing. The thing is to make it diminish, but how? The first essential, for which Margaret Thatcher's fabled expertise is marvellously suited, is to take control of public expenditure, both central and local. But the bureaucracy problem will not be sorted out without the use of manpower targets as well as financial ones, otherwise cuts in the allocation of funds will merely result in the slashing of capital investment programmes — the worst possible type of economy — while staffs remain unchanged. In a negative sense the way ahead seems tolerably clear — the negative income tax indeed should play a central role because with its aid we can dismantle the Beveridge universal welfare system of directly administered benefits in kind and substitute benefits in

cash. Next will come the partial denationalisation of education through adopting the voucher system — so that at last the money will start going on teachers instead of on educational administrators — and of course denationalisation proper — think of all those boards, together with the little neddies and other supervisory agencies, which could be biting the dust.

These are the negative but necessary bits of demolition which will help clear the way for stabilising the value of money and lowering the burden of tax. These in turn should establish the conditions for the fostering of a popular capitalism, and 'fostering' does not mean more government activity through boards and committees, subsidies and controls but changes in the law relating to savings, limited liability, bankruptcy, and taxation of wealth. Which brings us to a paradoxical conclusion: that thesocialist cause is increasingly identified with the interests of the one section of the middle class which is rising, while the Conservative futurelies in making capitalism popular among the workers.

In this regard Lord Thorneycroft could do worse than revive the cries with which Churchill and his team roused the voters in the early 'fifties, when the Tories, after their bitter recent experience of full-blooded socialist government, first realised how attached they were to free enterprise, when they became convinced as never before or since that the man in Whitehall really did not know best, and that Tory freedom really could work. We might even resuscitate the election slogan of the youngest woman candidate in the 1951 election who was fighting a vigorous election in Dartford, a certain Miss Margaret Roberts who coined the phrase "Vote right to keep what's left". It seems more apposite than ever today.